CQ Roll Call Opinion: The Wrong Direction on Patents, by Todd E. Gillenwater
This post originally appeared in CQ Roll Call on March 6, 2015.
In the United States, protecting intellectual property is a bedrock principle. Without clear patent processes and strong enforcement rights, markets everywhere would be crippled by uncertainty. Investors could never be confident that companies actually own the innovations they are working to commercialize. Entrepreneurs would get mired in legal wrangling, investment would dry up and new products would be delayed, if they reached market at all.
For these and other reasons, proposals to change patent litigation processes and mechanisms must be approached with serious caution. Poorly conceived and hastily written legislation can stunt innovation, harm the economy and even cost lives. Unfortunately, this is the case with the recently reintroduced Innovation Act (H.R. 9).
A carbon copy of legislation passed by the House during the last Congress, the measure has the admirable goal of restraining so-called patent trolls. Unfortunately, the bill features overzealous and short-sighted provisions that ignore recent changes in both IP law and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office regulations. As a result, the Innovation Act would make it more time-consuming and costly for legitimate patent holders to defend patents, generating confusion rather than clarity and harming rather than promoting innovation.
This legislation is especially problematic for small biomedical companies in California and elsewhere. In some cases, intellectual property may be these firms’ only major asset. Reducing the ability to capitalize on innovative technologies could delay critical therapies, tools and diagnostics for cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and many other conditions. The Innovation Act also threatens an increasingly important sector of our economy. In California alone, the life sciences industry employs more than 270,000 people, generates more than $27 billion in wages, and pays over $3 billion in California state and local taxes.